Infant Attachment Styles Throughout The Lifespan Psychology Essay

23 Mar 2015

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Infant attachment styles have been studied for several years and it has been proposed that these styles have a strong effect all the way through to adulthood, one aspect being adult romantic relationships. Attachment is defined by Sroufe (1985) as an emotional/psychological bond that links an infant to a caregiver. Bowlby's (1969, 1973, 1980) research explained how the attachment that infant's develop towards their primary caregiver is emotional and so separation from them causes emotional distress. Ainsworth and her colleagues (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) were able to link the type of responses to the infant's signals, from the caregiver, with the infant's development into one of three attachment styles; secure, avoidant and anxious-ambivalent (Feeney & Noller, 1990). Similar attachment styles were found in adults in similar ratios by Hazan and Shaver (1987). Although there has been a great deal of focus on infant attachment styles on adult attachment styles, it was also found there is a strong influence by adolescent-parent attachment on adult attachment (Seiffge-Krenke, Overbeek, & Vermulst, 2010). Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate attachment styles in adults in terms of romantic relationships and if there is a connection, and how strong it is, to infant attachment styles. Two studies in particular, by Feeney and Noller (1990) and Hazan and Shaver (1987) show evidence that supports this notion of adult attachment.

Together, Bowlby (1969) and Ainsworth et al. (1990) proposed a theory of infant attachment in human infants. It states that infants have a biological predisposition that they are born with, to be in close contact with and seek proximity to a specific adult (Rajecki, Lamb, & Obmascher, 1978). Bowlby's attachment theory was presented based on observations of infant behavior during separation from the primary caregiver (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Ainsworth and colleagues determined there to be three types of attachment in infancy; secure, avoidant and anxious-ambivalent (Ainsworth et al., 1990). Secure attachments account for approximately 65% of infants. These infants show intense distress during separation but also intense delight and relief during reunion. These infants are also known to actively search for the missing caregiver in their absence (Ainsworth et al., 1990). Fifty- five percent of adults that are considered secure are happy to be intimate but are also tolerant of separation (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Avoidant infants show little distress during separation and show little joy in the reunion and account for 20% of infants (Peterson, 2010). 25% of adults that share this avoidant personality tend to avoid intimacy and aim to be self-sufficient because they do not trust others (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The last type of attachment is anxious-ambivalent which contains the last 15% of infants and 20% of adults. Infants with this type of attachment show intense separation distress but do not show joy in reunion and instead often stay distressed (Peterson, 2010). Adults are often intolerant of separation, are preoccupied with being loved and are often jealous and anxious people (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

Even though there are similarities in infant attachment styles and also adult attachment styles, Seiffge-Krenke et al (2010) also found that during adolescent years, attachment types can change with a romantic partner based on events or experiences that may have an effect on the relationship with parents. However, the caregiver always remains a secure base for the child from infancy all the way through adolescence and into adulthood (Seiffge-Krenke, Overbeek, & Vermulst, 2010) (Ainsworth M. D., 1989). Although adults may find a new principle attachment figure in a partner, attachment to parents does not usually disappear even with different degrees of autonomy (Ainsworth M. D., 1989). These results continue to support previous statements of links between infant attachment to parents and adult attachment in a romantic relationship. Many studies have found similarities between infant and adult attachment styles, however, the initial investigation and discovery of adult attachment styles were by Hazan and Shaver in 1987.

Hazan and Shaver's (1987) study aimed to extend the research done by Ainsworth and Bowlby on infant attachment and their speculation of adult attachment theories. Hazan and Shaver proposed that adults have attachment processes too, one being romantic love and that each person would experience this process differently because of differences in their attachment histories. Investigating this was achieved by entering a 95 question "love quiz" questionnaire into the Rocky Mountain News in the lifestyle section. It was printed on page one and two to achieve maximum views as well as a banner on the front page referring to the quiz. Only the first 620 of over 1200 responses were used for the analysis which consisted of 205 replies from men and 415 replies from women. The subject's ranged in ages from 14 to 82. The mean age was 36 and the median was 34. Information was also collected on the subject's household income, education level, religious beliefs, sexuality and marital status. As hypothesised, the ratio of adult attachment classification was similar to that of infant-mother attachment ratios. Fifty-six percent classified themselves as secure, 25% as avoidant and 19% as anxious-ambivalent. Hazan and Shaver only looked into the length and quality of the subject's most significant relationship and found that secure had the longest and best quality, anxious-ambivalent had an average of 4.86 years and avoidant only 5.97 years. Due to similarities in the characteristics of attachment styles and the ratios, the results of this study indicate that there is a strong association between infant attachment styles and adult attachment styles in romantic relationships and Feeney and Noller confirmed this even further with their study in 1990.

Feeney and Noller's (1990) study involved distributing six questionnaires about attachment styles, love history and opinions on love to find out the connection between attachment history and adult romantic love. The questionnaires were administered in different orders to counterbalance presentation to 374 undergraduates, who were first year psychology students and mature entry preservice teacher training students. There were 162 males and 212 females involved, aged 17 to 58. Multiple statistical analyses were done with the results to draw conclusions. It was found that 55% of subjects were of a secure attachment, 30% were avoidant style and 15% were anxious-ambivalent. This again was similar ratios to Hazan and Shaver (1987) and infant attachment style ratios according to Ainsworth (1978). Attachment history was compared to current attachment style for individuals and the results were considered highly significant and similar to Hazan and Shaver (1987). There was also significant evidence that attachment style affects the length of longest love relationship. Feeney and Noller (1990) also looked into the length and quality of subject's relationships and it appears that secure subjects tended to have the longest lasting love relationships. This was in comparison to avoidant subjects, who reported never having been in love and anxious-ambivalent subjects, who reported having relationships that were not lasting. From this study, conclusions were drawn that attachment history or infant attachment patterns have a strong influence on adult romantic relationships which continues to support Hazan and Shaver's (1987) initial conclusion.

As with every study, there are limitations and strengths that influence how well a study can be relied upon. For the studies done by both Hazan and Shaver (1987) and Feeney and Noller (1990), the nature of the study meant that the only way to obtain the information they wanted about their subject's relationships and attachment styles was through self report. The disadvantage of this is that people are not always truthful when self analyzing and sometimes what people say and what people do are not the same thing. However, the results of both experiments support their hypotheses which indicate that most people were fairly accurate in their self analysis and the few that were not accurate, did not skew the results. Although Feeney and Noller (1990) used multiple questionnaires to collect all of the information they wanted, by administering them in six different orders the effect of order of presentation was nullified through counterbalancing. This ruled out an alternative explanation being that items from one scale systematically affected the responses to subsequent scales. A strength in Hazan and Shaver's (1987) study is their method of obtaining participants and results. By putting the questionnaire in a newspaper there was minimum selection bias for the participants and only the first 620 responses were used for analysis which provided a sufficient representative sample. Although the limitations of the experiments may have influenced the results, there was not a big enough effect for there to be an alternative explanation for the results. The strengths of these experiments also reduce the possibility of an alternative explanation which therefore increase the reliability of these experiments. Both of these studies have their limitations and their strengths but still support the concept that infant attachment styles have a strong influence on adult attachment styles, specifically in a romantic relationship.

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